IBA, as the premier business brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, is firmly established as a respected professional service firm in the legal, accounting, banking, mergers & acquisitions, real estate, and financial planning communities. Periodically, we will post guest blogs from professionals with knowledge to share for the good of owners of privately held companies & family owned businesses. The following blog has been provided by Jason Cutter of the Cutter Consulting Group (Homepage – Cutter Consulting Group).
Achieving Pre-Pandemic Sales Results as a Business Owner in 2021
Here we are one year into a pandemic that has, as expected, become a life-altering event. Most companies with employees in offices saw those employees sent home to work remote, unless they were in retail or hospitality. As a result, many sales teams have become distributed to a range of residential settings instead of coming into the office each day.
When this historic period began, it was a huge shift for most businesses. Generally, the best way to manage a sales team is to be in the same area, where the team can learn from each other, managers can practice MBWA (Manage By Walking Around), and personnel have face-to-face meetings with other sales team members. Then poof, that went away with many sales teams struggling with the loss of connection and leaders struggling with leading a newly remote sales team.
In this transition to remote, socially distanced, shelter-in-place mode, one of the sales groups affected the most were the outside salespeople who would normally be putting in miles in the car, miles in the air, knocking on business doors, and having in-person meetings to initiate and close deals. Now that the world is getting back to some type of previous “normal,” the challenge a lot of businesses face is getting their teams back into the office and back on the road. Once you get used to working from home, motivating yourself to return to the road can be tough. It’s like finding a way to get motivated after not working out for a while, where the momentum needed to get off the couch feels difficult to overcome.
So, what can sales leaders do to get their teams to shake off the cobwebs/rust and get excited about being an outside sales superstar (instead of just trying to rely on phone calls, video meetings, and/or emails)?
The first thing is to start with the objective facts. Not the stories that salespeople like to tell, but the cold, hard truth via their performance metrics. Take a look at activity and results data from pre-COVID-19 times. How many “doors” did they knock on per week or month? How many meetings did they get with potential buyers? How many proposals or quotes did they send out after those meetings? How many deals did they close, and what was the revenue?
Now collect the most recent three to six months of the same metrics. Compare Q4 2019 to 2020. Look at January & February 2020 versus 2021. Early in the pandemic, the economy and most businesses hit a giant pause button, and it took time for them to look ahead to the future again. When you take the most recent month(s) of activity and results data, you will have a relevant comparison (of course, you could still have a smaller target market, depending on who you are selling to and what you offer). Geographic area and state governance during the pandemic will also impact opportunity and environmental challenges. The environments in Florida and California are not equal in terms of potential, even today.
Compare those two sets of data. My guess, based on experience, is that the before data will be higher, considering the general effectiveness of in-person, relationship-building sales strategies versus virtual ones. If the before is better, you want to use that difference to be the catalyst for returning the team safely to outside sales activities. (Note: If the recent data shows more activity, conversions, and effectiveness—congratulations, you have found a sales professional who effectively transitioned to the situation. This is an individual to assess in terms of strategy moving forward and practices that can be replicated with others on your team.)
The challenge with moving your reps back to outside sales is they may want to stay home and be comfortable. Not just comfortable in a warm, cool, no commute, no pants, etc. way. The rejection that comes with being in sales can be easier to handle when it is not face to face.
Second, now that you have that data justifying the effectiveness of outside sales activities, you want to review the compensation plan. Yes, salespeople are theoretically provided with a way to make more money based on results and should be motivated by the bigger carrot. But in the real world of sales, what happens is that unless someone has a big motivator/goal/why, they will find a comfortable level of performance and income and settle in there. I am sure some business owner reading this knows their team is definitely settling for less income; the team members seem totally okay making less, while also doing a whole lot less work and being comfy at home.
One approach would be to adjust the compensation plan to provide the appropriate level of income for people who are now pretty much underperforming based on the business’ needs. It is possible the team has slipped down into a lower bracket of results, which was expected during the beginning of the economic constriction, and with the potential increasing to a before type level, the team is not bringing the level back up. You might need to raise the quota floor of what is acceptable.
Another approach, or to be done in tandem with the previous one—I recommend doing both—is to get back to the basics of sales leadership and find out the why behind each rep’s motivation. Sure, you can say it’s all about the money, but money is just a vehicle for something they want. What is that thing? Do they want to buy a house, a car, go on vacation, move out of their parents’ house? Pro tip: Whatever that thing is, it is still not the real motivator, so keep asking “Why is that important to you?” at least three times (ideally seven) to get to the true heart of their motivation. [If you want more information on this, I will send you a free copy of my ebook – A Sales Consultant’s Guide to: Motivating Your Sales Team (So You Both Can Win)]
With the objective truth about the past and present (performance metrics), compensation plan adjustments, and intrinsic motivation coaching, you should be able to motivate your team to get their bags out of the closet, get the business clothes cleaned and ready, and once again be excited about building relationships in person and persuading the right people to buy from your company. I wish you much success in 2021 and beyond returning to and exceeding your pre-pandemic numbers.
If you have questions relating to the content of this article Jason Cutter would welcome the opportunity to answer them. Jason Cutter, CEO of Cutter Consulting Group, is an author, podcaster and sees himself as a sales success architect for companies and individuals. Even though he didn’t have a sales upbringing or background (his bachelor’s degree is in Marine Biology), he knows what it takes to be successful in sales. His first book – Selling With Authentic Persuasion: Transform from Order Taker to Quota Breaker – is focused on helping anyone in a sales professional. Jason Cutter can be reached at (206) 234-1848 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, mergers & acquisitions, and real estate communities on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family owned businesses. IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.